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A Syrup of the Bees
A TWILIGHT EPIPHANY
The three worlds worship the sound of the string that twanged of old like the hum of bees1 as it slipped from faint Love's faltering hand and fell at his feet unstrung, the bow unbent and the shaft unsped, as if to beg for mercy from that other shaft of scorching flame that shot from the bow-despising brow of the moony-crested god.
FAR down in the southern quarter, at the very end of the Great Forest, just where the roots of its outmost trees are washed by the waves of the eastern sea, there was of old a city, which stood on the edge of land and water, like as the evening moon hangs where light and darkness meet. And just outside the city wall where the salt sand drifts in the wind, there was a little old ruined empty temple of the Lord of the Moony Tire, whose open door was, as it were, guarded by two sin-destroying images of the Deity and his wife, one on the right of the threshold and the other on the left, looking as if they had suddenly started asunder, surprised by the crowd of devotees, to make a way between. And on an evening long ago, when the sun had finished setting, Maheshwara was returning from Lanka to his own home on Kailas, with Umá in his arms. So as he went, he looked down, and saw the temple away below. And he said to his beloved: Come, now, let us go down, and revisit this little temple, which has stood so long without us. And it looks white in the moon's rays, as if it had turned pale, for fear that we have forgotten it.
So when they had descended, Maheshwara said again: See how these two rude and mutilated effigies that are meant for thee and me stand, as it were, waiting, like bodies for their souls. Let us enter in, and occupy, and sanctify these images,2 and rest for a little while, before proceeding to thy father's peaks. And if I am not mistaken, our presence will be opportune, and this deserted temple will presently be visited by somebody who stands in sore need of our assistance, which as long as they remain untenanted these our images cannot give him, since they have even lost their hands.3 And accordingly they entered, each into his own image, and remained absolutely still, as though the stone was just the stone it always was, and nothing more. And yet those stony deities glistened in the full moon's light, as though the presence of deity had lent them lustre of their own, that laughed as though to say: See, now we are as white as the very foam at our feet.
So as they stood, silent, and listening to the sound of the sea, all at once there came a man who ran towards them. And taking off his turban, he cast it at the great god's feet, and fell on his face himself. And after a while, he looked up, and joined his hands, and said: O thou Enemy of Love, now there is absolutely no help for me but in the sole of thy foot. For when the sun rose this morning, the Queen was found lying drowned, and all broken to pieces, in the sea foam under the palace wall. And when they ran to tell the King, they found him also lying dead, where he sleeps on his palace roof that hangs over the sea, with a dagger in his heart. And the city is all in uproar, for loss to understand it, and Gangádhara the minister has made of me a victim, by reason of an old grudge. And now my head will be the forfeit, unless I can discover the guilty before the rising of another sun. And thou who knowest all things, past, present, or to come, art become my only refuge. Grant me, of thy favour, a boon, and reveal to me the secret, for who but thyself can possibly discover how the King and Queen have come to this extraordinary end.
So as he spoke, gazing as if in desperation at Maheshwara, all at once, as if moved to compassion, that image of the Deity turned from the wall towards him, and nodded at him its stony head: so that in his terror that unhappy mortal nearly left his own body, and fell to the ground in a swoon. And Maheshwara gazed at him intently, as he lay, and put him, by his yoga,4 asleep. And the Daughter of the Snow said softly: O Moony-crested, who is this unlucky person, and what is the truth of this whole matter, for I am curious to know? And Maheshwara said slowly: O Snowy One, this is the chief of the night watch of the city; and be under no alarm. For while he sleeps, I will reveal the truth to him, in a magic dream: making him as it were a third person, to overhear our conversation. And I will do the same to the prime minister, so that in the morning, finding their two dreams tally, he will gain credit and save his life. Thereupon Párwatí said again: O Lord of creation, save mine also. For I am, as it were, dying of curiosity, to hear how all this came about.
So then, after a while, that omniscient Deity said slowly: All this has come about, by reason of a dream. And Gauri said: How could a dream be the cause of death, both to the King and Queen? Then said Maheshwara: Not only is there danger in dreaming, but the greatest. Hast thou not seen thy father's woody sides reflected in the still mirror of his own tarns? And the goddess said: What then? And Maheshwara said: Hast thou not marked how the reflection painted on the water contains beauty, drawn, as it were, from its depths, greater by far than does the very thing it echoes, of which it is nothing but an exact copy? And Párwatí said: Aye, so it does. Then said Maheshwara: So it is with dreams. For their danger lies in this very beauty, and like pictures upon quiet water, which contains absolutely nothing at all, below, they show men, sleeping, visions of unrealisable beauty, which, being nothing whatever but copies of what they have seen, awake, possess notwithstanding an additional fascination, not to be found in the originals, which fills them with insatiable longing and an utter contempt of all that their waking life contains, as in the present instance: so that they sacrifice all in pursuit of a hollow phantom, trying to achieve impossibility, by bringing mind-begotten dream into the sphere of reality, whither it cannot enter but by ceasing to be dream. But the worst of all is, as in this King's case, when dreaming is intermingled with the reminiscences of a former birth: for then it becomes fatality. And Párwatí said: How is that? Then said Maheshwara: Every soul that is born anew lies buried in oblivion, having utterly forgotten all its previous existence, which has become for it as a thing that has never been. And yet, sometimes, when impressions are very vivid, and memory very strong, here and there an individual soul, steeped, as it were, in the vat of its own experience, and becoming permanently dyed, as if with indigo, will laugh, so to say, at oblivion, and carry over indelible impressions, from one birth to another, and so live on, haunted by dim recollections that throng his memory like ghosts, and resembling one striving vainly to recall the loveliness and colour of a flower of which he can remember absolutely nothing but the scent, whose lost fragrance hangs about him, goading memory to ineffectual effort, and thus filling him with melancholy which he can never either dispel or understand.
So as he spoke, there came past the temple door a young man of the Shabara caste, resembling a tree for his height, carrying towards the forest a young woman of slender limbs, who was struggling as he held her, and begging to be released; to which he answered only by laughing as he held her tighter, and giving her every now and then a kiss as he went along, so that as they passed by, there fell from her hair a champak flower, which lay on the ground unheeded after they disappeared. And the Daughter of the Mountain exclaimed: See, O Moony-crested, this flower laid, as it were, at thy feet as a suppliant for her protection: for this is a case for thy interference, to save innocence from evildoing.
And Maheshwara looked at her with affection in his smile. And he said: Not so, O mountain-born: thou art deceived: since this is a case where interference would be bitterly resented, not only by the robber, but his prey: for notwithstanding all her feigned reluctance, this slender one is inwardly delighted, and desires nothing less than to be taken at her word. For this also is a pair of lovers, who resemble very closely those other lovers, whose story I am just about to tell thee: as indeed all lovers are very much the same. For Love is tyranny, and the essence of the sweetness of its nectar is a despotic authority that is equally delicious to master and to slave. For just as every male lover loves to play the tyrant, so does every woman love to play the slave, so much, that unless her love contains for her the consciousness of slavery, it is less than nothing in her own eyes, and she does not love at all. And know, that as nothing in the world is so hateful to a woman as force, exerted on her by a man she does not love, so nothing fills her with such supreme intoxication as to be masterfully made by her lover to go along the road of her own inclination, since so she gets her way without seeming to consent, and is extricated from the dilemma of deciding between her scruples and her wish. For indecision is the very nature of every woman, and it is a torture to her, to decide, no matter how. And even when she does decide, she does so, generally as a victim, driven by circumstances or desperation, and never as a judge, as in the case of both those women who determined the destiny of this dead King, the one deciding in his favour, precisely because he would allow her no choice, and the other very much against him indeed: and yet both, so to say, without any good reason at all. For women resemble yonder waves of the sea, things compounded of passion and emotion, with impulses for arguments, and agitation for energy, for ever playing, fretting, and moaning with laughter and tears of brine and foam: and like feminine incarnations of the instability of water, one and the same essence running through a multitude of contradictory and beautiful qualities and forms: being cold and hard as ice, and soft and white as snow, and still as pools, and crooked as rivers, now floating in heaven like clouds and mists and vapours, and now plunging, like cataracts and waterfalls, into the abyss of hell. Is not the same water bitter as death to the drowning man, and sweeter than a draught of nectar, saving the life of the traveller dying of thirst in the desert sand?
So, now, listen, while I tell thee the story of this King.
And as he began to speak, the wind fell, and the sea slumbered, and the moon crept silently further up and up the sky. And little by little, the dark shadows stole out stealthily, moving, as it were, on tiptoe, and hung in corners, here and there, like ghosts about the little shrine, before which the sleeping man lay white in the moon's rays, as still as if he were a corpse. And the deep tones of the Great God's voice seemed like a muttered spell, to lull to sleep the living and assemble the dead to hear, with demons for dwárapálas at the door of an ashy tomb.
1 The bowstring of Love's bow is made of a line of bees. Love was reduced to ashes by fire from Shiwa's extra eye, for audaciously attempting to subject that great ascetic to his own power.
2 The real divinity of a Hindoo temple is not the images outside on its walls, but the symbol (whatever it be) inside.
3 A common feature throughout India. Everywhere they went, the devotees of the Koràn used to smash and maim the Hindoo idols.
4 What we should call, in such a case, mesmerism: the power of concentrated will. There is something in it, after all.